Side effects to bone broth? Possible causes and what to do about them

Most people who drink bone broth daily, experience an improvement in their health in about four weeks. But for about one percent of people, drinking bone broth may make them feel worse. Is there something wrong with the bone broth? Read on to find out more.

People who feel worse from drinking bone broth may experience the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • digestive upset
  • increased heart rate
  • skin flushing or itching
  • hot flashes or increased sweating
  • swelling in your hands or feet
  • muscle, joint, or back pain
  • dry mouth, sneezing or a runny nose

These symptoms normally occur because of either a reaction to the glutamine content (a glutamic acid sensitivity) or the histamine content (a histamine intolerance) in bone broth and are a signal that your body is overloaded with one or both of these substances. There is one culprit in particular that we believe causes your body to be overloaded with glutamic acid — MSG, and we will address it later in this article.

Experiencing side effects to bone broth doesn’t mean that it isn’t a healthy choice for you; it means that you may have to take a closer look at your health and food choices and gradually reduce the foods that are high in glutamic acid and histamines.

Below we break down these two issues; glutamic acid and histamines and individually recommend changes to overcome them.

Glutamic Acid Sensitivity
Glutamic acid is an amino acid found in both plant and animal protein sources. The body also makes glutamic acid. The most common form in the body is called glutamate. This amino acid is extremely important and acts as a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) which excites our cells by communicating instructions for brain growth, memory, and learning. Thinking of glutamate as a stimulant helps us to understand why an overabundance of it causes symptoms of increased heart rate, flushing, and feeling wired but tired.

Most of the glutamate that we eat is bound to a protein, like chicken, which is generally easy to digest and is absorbed slowly. However, there are some foods that contain free glutamate (not bound to a protein) which is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.

Foods that naturally contain free glutamate include:

  • Bone Broth
  • Meat cooked over moist heat for long periods of time
  • Cured meats: bacon, ham
  • Matured Cheeses: Parmesan, Roquefort
  • Fish sauce, Soy sauce, soy protein
  • Mushrooms
  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Walnuts
  • Grape juice (wine)
  • Malted Barley (used to make beer)
  • Wheat gluten
  • Dairy casein (milk protein)
  • Enter Man-made MSG

Now, if you are astute, you will notice that all MSG is man-made and that is often the problem. The foods contained in the above list are natural, occur in nature and in most cases are healthy for you. Most people eating moderate amounts of these foods would not experience problems. But, in today’s world, this man-made chemical can tip the scales so to speak. Although research is mixed about the potential health effects of MSG, studies have found it to induce symptoms as common as headaches and as complex as hormone disruption.[1] [2] It’s also important to note that many of the studies concluding that this chemical is safe are funded by the food manufacturing industry.

So, if a person’s diet contains high levels of MSG and, therefore, high levels of free glutamate in their body, it may be difficult for them to tolerate the natural forms of free glutamate found in healthy foods because their system is overloaded.

If you think that you don’t eat MSG, think again. This ingredient is hidden on food labels and may also be listed as natural flavoring, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, caseinate, textured protein, or hydrolyzed pea protein. [3]

Here are a few tips to evaluate if you are sensitive to glutamic acid:

  • Monitor the food that you eat for five days and note if they contain MSG or any of the above-mentioned ingredients. Take note of any symptoms that are aggravated after eating foods that contain MSG.
  • Also, monitor your intake of foods that are naturally high in free glutamic acid. Take note of any symptoms that may be aggravated by eating these foods.
  • Healthpedian.org has more in-depth information on MSG Sensitivity.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and request your Vitamin B6 levels to be tested. Low B6 has been linked to MSG sensitivity.

Tips to reduce the amount of free glutamate in your diet:

  • Check all packaged food labels for monosodium glutamate and the ingredients listed above, including those that are marketed as healthy foods.
  • Ask restaurant staff if MSG is used as an ingredient in the food they serve.
  • Reduce consumption of the foods that naturally contain free glutamate from the list above especially cured meats, fish sauce, soy sauce, soy protein (veggie burgers), wine, and beer.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms and request your Vitamin B6 levels to be tested. Low B6 has been linked to MSG Sensitivity.

Here is a great article that has more information on glutamic acid sensitivity: Beyond MSG: Could Hidden Sources of Glutamate Be Harming Your Health?

Now to deal with the second culprit or issue, histamine intolerance.

Histamine Intolerance

What is histamine? Histamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that your body produces) which works to keep your immune, digestive, and nervous system functioning properly. It helps to alert your body to substances that your immune systems sees as a threat, causing an inflammatory response that triggers processes to get those substances out — like sneezing, a runny nose, gastric disturbances, and itchiness.

So, histamine is normally a good thing but you've heard the old adage "too much of a good thing.” Extra histamine is normally easily broken down in the body by enzymes such as DAO (Diamine Oxidase) in the intestine. [4] But, when our body isn’t functioning properly, histamines start to build up and all that inflammation causes symptoms like the ones listed above.

In the vast majority of people, histamine intolerance is due to leaky gut syndrome. (In rare cases, this inability to process histamines is due to genetics or medical conditions like Crohn’s disease.) [5]

Gut inflammation inhibits DAO from breaking down histamine and if the cell junctions in the intestinal walls are compromised, histamine can leak into the bloodstream triggering your immune system to go into overdrive. However, once the gut is healed, the histamine symptoms normally disappear.

Now, this may feel like a catch-22 because bone broth is one of the foods recommended to heal leaky gut AND it is a high histamine food.

By eliminating the other high histamine foods from your diet, you will reduce your overall histamine load and be able to tolerate small amounts of bone broth which will promote gut healing and enable you to increase your consumption.

Here are a few tips to help you evaluate yourself for histamine intolerance:

How to Still Get the Benefits of Bone Broth

If you feel that you may be reacting to bone broth due to a glutamic acid sensitivity or histamine intolerance, don’t despair. Try the steps below to incorporate bone broth into your diet and gain the health benefits.

The first thing to do is to greatly reduce or eliminate the sources of free glutamate and or histamines in your diet for 2 to 4 weeks. Then:

  • Start by drinking a ¼ cup of bone broth every 2 days for a week.
  • If no symptoms occur, increase to a ¼ cup every other day for one week.
  • Then increase to a ¼ cup every day for two weeks.
  • Then to a ½ cup every day and so on until you work your way up to a cup per day.

During this process, it is extremely important that you don’t let your spare bone broth sit in the fridge. Remember, as leftovers age, their histamine content increases. Any unused bone broth or cooked food must be stored in the freezer.

For bone broth, the easiest thing to do is freeze it in ice cube trays and just pop out what you need. Two standard ice cubes are about a ¼ cup. The Kettle & Fire blog has a recipe for you on how to make Bone Broth Ice Cubes.

Meat broth, like homemade chicken soup, also has many healing properties similar to bone broth. So you can try diluting your bone broth with Homemade Chicken Stock to decrease your sensitivity while still providing your body with an abundance of healing nutrients.

Don’t Think Free Glutamine or Histamine Is Your Problem?

It is also possible that you are not reacting to bone broth. Many people drastically change their diets when they start introducing bone broth. If you have suddenly stopped eating sugar or reduced your carbohydrate consumption, then you may be experiencing something called the carb flu or the Keto flu. These flu-like symptoms usually last about a week and drinking bone broth will help you to get through them.

Read more about the keto flu and what to do about it here.

Try the above suggestions and we are confident you will experience relief plus the benefits of a healed gut. However, if you are still experiencing symptoms, we recommend consulting a nutritionist or other healthcare provider.

About the Author: Carrie Bonfitto is a board-certified holistic nutritionist, wellness educator and culinary instructor in the Los Angeles area. Through her private practice, Two Hearts Nutrition, she turns up the heat on healthy eating, transforming it into delicious and practical food therapy. Having spent years getting bounced from doctor to doctor before taking her health into her own hands, Carrie is dedicated to helping those who suffer from chronic conditions regain their vitality.

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